It's finally game week. In this edition of "Cover 3" on Giants.com, we give a bold prediction for the Giants ahead of the new season, which begins this Sunday at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Another football season is upon, which means everyone that covers the league in any way is going to be asked to make predictions for the upcoming season. It's a fool's errand. Football is unpredictable by its very nature, with only 16 games often times decided by only a few points. Last year's Giants season should be all the circumstantial evidence anyone needs that things rarely go as planned in a football season.
So what's a bold prediction exactly? In the NFL? Nearly every single one. With that said, the point here is to predict something many others might not, so here goes nothing. The Giants will average more than 250 passing yards per game, which would put them in the top seven passing offenses in the league. I believe in what Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula want to do with the passing game. He runs some west coast principles, but is not shy about trying to get the ball down the field through the air.
Not enough? OK. Eli Manning will have his best passing season since 2011, though he will not surpass the 4,933 yards he passed for seven seasons ago. Sterling Shepard will not make the Pro Bowl on the initial ballot, but he will play in the game after others drop out. Still not enough? Sorry, that's as bold as I'll get.
Lance wrote about one tight end below, but I've brought up another – Rhett Ellison. My bold prediction is that he, not Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Cody Latimer or even Saquon Barkley, will finish second on the team in touchdown catches. I'm not bold enough to say he will top Odell Beckham Jr. – that would be foolish in talking about the three-time Pro Bowler who recently signed a lucrative five-year contract extension – but that's how high I am on the former Viking with previous experience playing for Pat Shurmur in Minnesota.
While Engram will rack up the yards and catches as a matchup nightmare, I wouldn't be surprised if we look up after the first month of the season and Ellison already has a handful of touchdowns. People think of him as a blocker, which he is, but he showed time and time again in spring and summer practices that he also has pass-catching ability. That makes him a reliable option for Eli Manning, especially in the red zone. The franchise quarterback knows that Ellison will always be in the right place at the right time and has that extra something to make a difficult play.
Tight ends are key chess pieces for Shurmur, who likes to keep things simple yet unpredictable while tailoring schemes to his players and not the other way around. Ellison will be a major beneficiary of that strategy.
When you look at the Giants on paper, most of the attention on offense automatically goes toward Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, but I think Evan Engram will steal the show statistically this season. Despite all the injuries on offense last season, the team's first-round pick in 2017 still managed to lead New York in receptions (64) and touchdowns (six) and finish second in receiving yards (722). Now, with all the talent surrounding him fully healthy, I think Engram will build on those numbers and see many favorable one-on-one matchups. Not many linebackers and safeties can hang with the former Ole Miss standout and, with the Giants likely showcasing many two tight end formations, Engram should have the flexibility to run various routes more often than not.
Last season, when Pat Shurmur was the Vikings' offensive coordinator, tight end Kyle Rudolph posted 57 receptions for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. I think Engram will top those totals in receptions and receiving yards and be in position to match the touchdowns. If there's anyone on offense who I think has the best chance to explode, it's the Giants' second-year tight end. I expect Odell Beckham to return to Pro Bowl form and I think he'll be a lock for NFL Comeback Player of the Year becoming the third straight wide receiver to claim the award following Jordy Nelson in 2016 and Keenan Allen last year.
How the defense performs as a unit will be the true X-factor this season. With several new faces, a lot of youth and a completely new scheme, there are many questions surrounding this facet of the team. Unlike the offense, I'm not expecting anyone in particular to have a career year but I think linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong and safety Michael Thomas will pleasantly surprise a lot of people with their significant roles on both defense and special teams and play-making ability. If there's any area where I think the team will improve the most, it's not scoring offense but instead coverage on special teams. With the likes of punter Riley Dixon and Armstrong, Thomas and Kerry Wynn, the Giants have a strong nucleus of players who will deliver in that department.